CU researchers unveil new way to create robots, artificial muscles

BOULDER, Colo. -- An exciting announcement from the University of Colorado where researchers have unveiled a new way to create robots and artificial muscles.

“What we’ve done here at the Keplinger research group at CU Boulder is introduce a new type of artificial muscle that is really the closest thing to natural muscles in terms of performance,” graduate student Eric Acome said.

They have been working on this project for two years and the research was just published in the journals Science and Science Robotics.

They have three models designed so far. Each is made of a flexible material, filled with liquid.

“Ionic conductors, salt water and gel are hooked up, we apply voltage and when we do that, the electrodes will squeeze together and this will expand down,” Acome said.

It can mimic the action of a muscle. The real-world applications are exciting.

They could be used to make prosthetic limbs more life-like.

“We show a video lifting a gallon of water several times a second, something not done before soft electrically controlled device before," Acome said.

"The power to weight ratio is double that of natural muscle, so in some areas, these out-perform natural muscles. They are just as strong, work faster at higher speeds.”

Researchers describe it as flexible, think of a robot that is as flexible as an octopus. They could help in search and rescue operations.

“You think of robots made of metal or gears, driven by electric motors, but we’re imagining making robots that are completely soft, with fewer moving parts, less things that can break. They can navigate a collapsed building, soft robotic can squeeze in tight spaces,” Acome said.

They are soft devices that are fast and made of simple, practical materials.

“It’s filled with a liquid ... pretty much vegetable oil," Acome said.

“The cool thing about these is that they directly convert electrical energy into mechanical motion so electrical input ... goes to mechanical motion out," graduate student Nicholas Kellaris said.

Added graduate student Shane Mitchell: “So what we can do here is use something like this, a mini high voltage amplifier, powered by cell phone battery and use this to power our actuators.”